Iowa's magical run ends in Big Ten title heartbreak

Chad Leistikow

OMAHA, Neb. — The magic that carried Iowa’s baseball team into the Big Ten Conference championship game switched dugouts Sunday at TD Ameritrade Park.

Two days earlier, it was the Hawkeyes who rallied from a four-run deficit to beat Ohio State.

This time, it was the other way around.

Iowa players including Robert Neustrom (44) and Jimmy Frankos (16) walk back to the dugout after losing to Ohio State in the Big Ten baseball championship game at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., Sunday.

The hot-hitting Buckeyes won their fourth game in two days, ending Iowa’s season with a thrilling 8-7 victory before a Hawkeye-heavy crowd of 10,350.

“We have no regrets, really," Iowa coach Rick Heller said. "We (gave up) no walks in the game. We had no errors in the game. We needed to get a lead early.”

Iowa did, going up 4-0.

Just like Friday’s game turned when Ohio State coach Greg Beals pulled effective starter John Havird, this one went the wrong way for Iowa after Heller went to his bullpen.

Starter Calvin Mathews re-aggravated his chronic shoulder injury in the third inning, and he couldn't return. The Buckeyes capitalized immediately in the fourth against left-hander Ryan Erickson. Hard singles by Nick Sergakis and Craig Nennig were followed by a hard double by Ronnie Dawson, instantly cutting Iowa’s lead in half to 4-2.

After a strikeout, Erickson was tagged for two more hits and his day was done. Heller went to C.J. Eldred, Iowa’s winning pitcher in Wednesday’s opening win over Minnesota, with a 4-3 score and two men on.

But Ohio State grabbed the 5-4 lead on an RBI double from Jalen Washington and a two-out, looping single off the top of shortstop Nick Roscetti’s glove by Tre’ Gantt.

“In the fourth inning, we couldn’t miss a barrel," Heller said. "You just tip your hat. It’s not like we were giving it away. They just hammered us.”

All five runs were charged to the normally-salty Erickson, who had given up just four earned runs in his previous six outings that spanned 23 innings.

And even after allowing another two runs in the seventh inning, Iowa kept fighting.

Leistikow: Hawkeyes lose game, but fans win the day

Facing a 7-4 deficit in the bottom of the eighth, the eighth-seeded Hawkeyes (30-26) strung together two walks and a pinch-hit single by Devin Pickett to load the bases. With two outs, a two-run double by Tyler Peyton and RBI single to center by Joel Booker tied it up — and had the crowd roaring.

“We never doubted we were out of this game," said Peyton, who went 9-for-18 this week in four games. "We fight until the end.”

But Ohio State answered in the top of the ninth. After tournament hero Dawson singled for his tournament-record 15th hit of the week, Troy Kuhn roped a two-out double down the left-field line, even against the Hawkeyes' no-doubles defensive alignment.

“Josh (Martsching) hung a breaking pitch, and (Kuhn) hit it into the one spot that was going to beat us," Heller said. "Didn’t see that coming.”

So, there will be no Big Ten championship in 2016 for any Iowa program. The last outright title for any men's sport remains 2011 for track and field (the wrestlers shared the 2015 tournament title with Ohio State); the last Iowa women's title was from field hockey in 2008.

And there will be no second straight NCAA Tournament for the Hawkeyes. They needed to win this one-game title to earn the conference's automatic bid.

Ohio State (43-18-1), which beat Michigan State earlier Sunday, was already safe as an at-large team. But the Buckeyes won four games in a row, after Friday's humbling 5-4 loss to Iowa, to hoist the Big Ten trophy.

“Shocked," said Booker, a senior who was 4-for-5 Sunday and an incredible 13-for-20 this week. "We jumped out to a big lead. Four runs are hard to come back from in a ballgame. But they’re a team that can do it, and they did it.”